dear apple

Dear Apple,

You lost a sale today. I know its just one less iPhone you are going to sell, and in the grand scheme of things does not amount to anything. I suppose its not really your fault, and as a loyal Apple customer its much easier for me to blame AT&T than you. Still, it makes me sad to have to tell you this. I waited as long as I could for AT&T to expand their network in my direction. I’ve hung on every Verizon rumor for two years. Finally after enduring a year of carrying my iPod touch in the same pocket as the mind numbingly horrible Motorola Crush I bought an HTC Desire yesterday. Android!! I never thought I would see the day.

Here’s whats even worse, I like it! It has some great apps Gmail, Calendar, and many apps that I already love on my iPod Touch and iPad: Dropbox, Evernote, 1Password, Kindle, Facebook, Twitter, Weather, Stocks, and a 5, yes 5, megapixel camera! I already love the gps, so the location aware apps work, I love the WiFi and the Bluetooth.

I’m going to miss OmniFocus, but I carry around my Ipad almost everywhere I go so I don’t think I’ll miss it that much.

So Apple, I’ll remain a loyal customer, at least for now. I’m going to continue to develop my app for the iPad, I still love my iMac and my MacBook Pro. But if US Cellular comes out with a decent family data plan in the next month or so you may lose two more sales as the rest of my family follows me into the smartphone world.

ebook man is cleaning out the library

So today I sat in my office and looked over at my library of books, probably about 700 books all together. The top half of the library contains my cookbook collection and lots of other non-fiction books. The bottom half is largely science fiction, some paperbacks that I’ve had for 30 years, The Lord of the Rings trilogy for example. There were also several large stacks of books on the floor because the shelves are full. Jane is wanting me to do something to get the books off the floor. Even though she doesn’t spend that much time in my office so I don’t know why it bothers her, but she’s right the piles have been accumulating and its time to do something.

Suddenly it hit me, I could let all of the paperbacks go. I’ve been saving them for years because they are my favorites and maybe I’ll read them again, or maybe I just like to look at the shelves and see my old favorites sitting there. I’m not sure what the precise reason is, whatever it is I’m over it. I just realized that if I did want to read them again, I would no longer want to do it by holding a real book in my hand. I realized that just like all of my old ‘80s music that I had on cassette tape these are relics of my past, and if I did want to read them again I would be happier to download them to my iPad and read them in the kindle app or iBooks. But, fat chance that the iBooks store would have any of these old favorites. I prefer the iPad over the dedicated Kindle because it saves me one device. Plus until now the kindle required cell coverage that I don’t have.

So, here, for posterity, and maybe to remind me in the future if I come back and read this post instead of staring at bookshelves, is a random walk through the lower half of my library. If you have suggestions for what I can do with the paperbacks let me know. If you read this list and have suggestions for other authors you think I would like, definitely let me know.

  • Rober Sawyer, every book ever written by him except for the current WWW series which I bought in electronic form from the beginning. Factoring Humanity, Calculating God, the Hominid Series, great ideas

  • Isaac Asimov, The robot books, and the entire foundation series. These books took me through college.

  • Stephen R. Donaldson, the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. Covenant is still one frustrating guy whenever I think about these books. Although I notice that there are some new additions to the series that are out in eBook form…

  • Dan Simmons, the Hyperion, Endymion series. The Shrike was one scary monster.

  • David Brin, Despite the absolutely dismal movie the Postman is still a favorite in how it forshadowed the web. I also have some Brin on the upper half of the library, The Transparent Society is an excellent book to get you thinking about privacy in the digital age.

  • Orson Scott Card, the Enders Game series… I loved all of these books, and I even like some of the more recent ones where he goes back and fills in some missing pieces from the perspective of other characters.

  • Connie Willis, The Doomesday Book is awesome as are many of her other stories although none have captivated me as much as that one.

  • Frank Herbert, The Dune series of course.

  • Robert Heinlien, Stranger in a Strange Land and others.

  • Mary Doria Russel, The Sparrow. This is one of my all time favorite books, in fact I even made my Paideia students read it last year. I’m sure they thought I was off the deep end for making them read Science Fiction in a serious class like Paideia but Oh well.

  • Robert Russo, not science fiction but a great writer. I like all of his books, but teaching at a small college, I get tears in my eyes from laughing so hard when I read Straight Man.

  • And speaking of non-science fiction books, Jon Hassler, this guy captures small town midwest living so well. From Staggerford to Rookery Blues they are amazing. I miss him, and I miss Connie Helgen who recommended him to me. After our trip to Ireland this summer I’ve been longing to go back and read a Green Journey again, but I just checked and its not available in the Kindle store. Horrors!

  • James Halperin, The Truth Machine, and I just read an article this morning about a group out in california that is using MRI as a new lie detector. Anyway, read this book.

  • Roger Zelazny, the whole Amber Series, kind of a disfunctional family but the whole series is fun to read.

  • John Grisham, hmmm why did I save all of these??

  • Carl Sagan, Contact. I read this way before the Jodi Foster movie. That was just a bonus for a young geek who loved her in the after school specials.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien, a boxed set of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. I don’t think I can part with these. I still remember reading these late at night with a flashlight under my blanket. I’ve still never been able to make it through the Silmarillion though.

  • Douglass Adams, such a loss, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. I swear I can open up any of these books to a random page and start reading and I’ll be laughing in no time.

  • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. I’ve never had the energy to make it through the Quicksilver books, but I have Anathem on my iPad so we’ll see.

  • Gordon R. Dickson, Dorsai, the Chantry Guild, The Final Encyclopedia

  • Larry Niven, the Ringword Books, and other books with Jerry Pournelle (a Mote in God’s Eye) I still remember looking forward to reading Pournelle’s Chaos Manor column in Byte magazine every month

  • Robert Charles Wilson, Spin, Darwinia, The Chronoliths, and others.

  • Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep, a Deepness in the Sky

  • Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed, and the Earthsea books.

  • Mary Stewart, The Crystal Cave series that retells the legend of King Arthur.

I also discovered a rather interesting section on the shelves devoted to historical fiction, but I’ll leave that for another time. I just wanted to mention it in case you’ve concluded that I’m hopelessly one dimensional.

I would also say that I’ve discovered that computer science reference books work very well as ebooks. I’ve been teaching myself to program my iPad and I have several good references in electronic form. Its nice to have them open on my big screen, and its easy to find examples when you can search.

google app engine service login

So I’m working on an app during my sabbatical that has an iPad component and an online Google App Engine component. The Google App Engine part is half web based and half web service based. Of course this means that the local client part has to be able to authenticate itself to the Google App Engine before it can communicate and do useful stuff. Finding good reliable examples of how to do this is surprisingly hard. For the Objective C code I’m working on I found a nice set of classes that do the trick for you here: On Github For Python I found some example code on stackoverflow. However it was not really in a reusable form.

The basic outline of what you have to do is as follows:

1. Login to This will give you an auth token.
2. Use the token you gained in step 1 to login to your Google App engine application or service. When you have successfully logged in to your service google will set an ACSID cookie for you to use when you make subsequent requests to your service. This prevents you from having to login each time you make a web service request.

I’ve taken some ideas from both places mentioned above and have created a Python class for logging in and accessing app engine services from Python. To use this module you just need to import it and create a GoogleAppEngineLogin object. Once the object is created you can use the open method on the object to access further services. The open method is just a convenience wrapper around urllib2.urlopen but it also makes sure that your cookie has not expired before it makes a request. If you have comments or suggestions for how to improve the code please let me know via email or leave a comment.

The code is reproduced below, but you can also just download the file from git clone

import getpass
import urllib
import urllib2
import cookielib

class GoogleAppEngineLogin(object):
Logging in to an App Engine Account (when you use google users) is
a two step process: First you must login to Google generally. This
gets you an auth token. The auth token is used as part of a
request to login to your app/service During the login process for
your app/service the server sets a cookie with the name of ACSID,
it is this cookie and its value that serves as the authentication
token for your own service/app. So, for future requests you need
to give the server the cookie as part of your request. Handling
cookies can be a bit tricky if you haven’t had some experience with
it but luckily Python’s cookielib module makes it all pretty

This class takes care of the whole login process for you, and then
gives you a simple helper to access the URLs for your service.
The helper function makes sure the cookie is still valid and
passes on the request along with the cookie. Technically you
would not even need to use the helper function, you could use
urllib2 directly to access your service but this seems a bit
neater to me.

Some of this code was inspired by and lifted from an example on, but that was all in-line code my contribution
is to add some error handling and encapsulate the whole thing
inside a class to make it easier to include in my/your own
programs. Here’s a link to the original thread on stackoverflow


def init(self, user_email, user_pw, uri, source):
Create a Google App Engine Object.
- user_email: your google username
- user_pw: your google password
- uri: The url of your google app engine service
- source: The unique name of your google app engine service
self._user_email = user_email
self._user_pw = user_pw
self._uri = uri
self._source = source
self._authtoken = None
self._auth_cookie = None

if not self.google_client_login():
raise RuntimeError(“Could not login to Google”)

if not self.app_engine_login():
raise RuntimeError(“Could not login to your application”)

def google_client_login(self):
# get an AuthToken from Google accounts
auth_uri = ‘'
authreq_data = urllib.urlencode({ “Email”: self._user_email,
“Passwd”: self._user_pw,
“service”: “ah”,
“source”: self._source,
“accountType”: “HOSTED_OR_GOOGLE” })
auth_req = urllib2.Request(auth_uri, data=authreq_data)
auth_resp = urllib2.urlopen(auth_req)
auth_resp_body =
return False
# auth response includes several fields - we’re interested in
# the bit after Auth=
auth_resp_dict = dict(x.split(“=”)
for x in auth_resp_body.split(”\n”) if x)
self._authtoken = auth_resp_dict[“Auth”]
return False

return True

def app_engine_login(self):
# Get a cookie
# we use a cookie to authenticate with Google App Engine
# by registering a cookie handler here, this will automatically store the
# cookie returned when we use urllib2 to open
self._cookiejar = cookielib.LWPCookieJar()
opener = urllib2.build_opener(urllib2.HTTPCookieProcessor(self._cookiejar))

serv_args = {}
serv_args[‘continue’] = self._uri
serv_args[‘auth’] = self._authtoken

full_serv_uri = “%s/_ah/login?%s” % (self._uri,urllib.urlencode(serv_args))

serv_req = urllib2.Request(full_serv_uri)
serv_resp = urllib2.urlopen(serv_req)
serv_resp_body =

for i, c in enumerate(self._cookiejar):
if == ‘ACSID’:
self._auth_cookie = c
return True

return False

def open(self,url,data=None):
url should be a properly encoded url ready to go. data is
optional and should be used to provide parameters to pass
along with the URL when you want to use POST instead of GET.
If you provide data it must be properly encoded just as if you
were calling urlopen directly yourself.
if self._auth_cookie.is_expired():
if not self.google_client_login() or not self.app_engine_login():
raise RuntimeError(“Cannot get proper authorization for this request”)

serv_req = urllib2.Request(url,data)
return urllib2.urlopen(serv_req)

if name == “main“:
user = raw_input(“User: “)
pw = getpass.getpass(“Password: “)
service_url = “"
service_name = “myapp”
gae = GoogleAppEngineLogin(user,pw,service_url,service_name)
h =“")

polk county biking

Here’s a quiz for you… What do deer, old cars, a saw mill, and black bears all have in common? These are all things I regularly see on my rides around polk county. The countryside by our cabin is some of the best riding around, every road is paved and very lightly travelled. I can ride around any number of lakes and have all kinds of flexibility to make a route that is anywhere from 12 to 50 miles long. Bone Lake, Half Moon, Pipe, Balsam, Little Blake, Butternut, these are a few of the lakes that I loop in and through on a regular basis.

So, the other night I took my camera for a ride and focused more on the picture taking that the riding. Here’s my favorite shot from the night and you can find the rest of them here:IMG_1264.jpg

Incidentally, this picture illustrates where the bear comes in to the picture. This little pond is at the bottom of a little hill and around a nice little corner. One morning a came coasting down the hill and around the corner to see a black bear, he would have been right in the bottom right corner of the picture. I don’t know which of us was more surprised! The bear took off one way and I took off as fast as I could up the hill and past the pond. We’ve never seen each other again.

a beautiful last day

Well, today is our last official day of vacation. Tomorrow is a day of travel back to Dublin and then we wake up and head to the airport to see Kaia off to France and the rest of us to Chicago.

After our rain soaked day yesterday we were thrilled to wake up to see the sun and big puffy white clouds today. What a difference the sun makes! Our departure this morning was slightly delayed as we were still drying shoes and clothing from yesterday, and (I suspect) because most of the group was in Roundstone partying at the pub until late last night. The Miller family stayed and had dinner at the castle last night as we are all showing the wear of nearly four weeks on the road.

I can’t imagine what the maid must have though when she came into our room this morning. I had been sitting on the floor drying 3 pairs of shoes with the blow drier; the shoes I’ve worn every day for the last 3 weeks, Josh’s tennis shoes, and Jane’s walking shoes. The smell was indescribable.

When we did take off we headed out toward Roundstone, a beautiful little seaside village which is becoming very popular among the well to do here in Ireland. When you come into town you go right past the house of the guy who wrote the original River Dance. From Roundstone we made our way along the coast toward Ballyconeely where we had our first ‘table stop’ of the day. Padraic was busy setting out a table with fruit and granola bars and juice for us.

We only had a little further to go to get to Clifden, so we decided to do the Sky Drive loop before lunch rather than after. That turned out to be a great decision as the weather cooperated perfectly and we were treated to magnificent views of the sea. Based on the color of the sea you would think that you were in the Caribbean not Ireland! As you might guess the Sky drive was a bit of a climb but it takes you right out to a point where you can see ocean in three different directions. Here’s the Miller family at our stop on the point.

Of course by this time our guides had already schemed to set up another table stop. They had gone to the store in Clifden and bought some more Bulmers cider, this was the new berry flavor that Padraic had not had before so he was even more excited than usual for us to give it a try. We toasted a great trip and all of our new found friends.

The ride back into Clifden was mostly downhill, but by this time we really were ready for some food. We ate at E.J. Kings pub, Jane and I had the chicken curry, Kaia had ravioli, and Josh had a club sandwich. I think Padraic was a little disappointed that we had strayed from traditional irish fare but by this time our palate’s were ready for something a little more spicy. We all had to laugh at Josh during lunch because we were talking about the weather and how lucky we were that it wasn’t raining like it was yesterday. I said yes, it only rains in Ireland on days that contain a ‘y.’ Jane and Kaia laughed and the conversation moved on. Suddenly, from out of the blue, Josh says, “wait every day has a ‘y’ in it.” We still love him.

By the time we finished lunch it was almost 3:00 and it was time to head back to the Castle. The Miller family took off a little ahead of the pack, and then Josh and I separated from Jane and Kaia, we made it back in record time. It was our flattest ride yet. The interesting thing about riding through the bog is how similar it looks to the prairies of Southern Minnesota, except where the glaciers flattened all the granite in Minnesota there were no glaciers here so the granite still stands in small hills and big chunks of rock sticking up out of the landscape.

Josh and I were so fast that I missed the last table stop. A little bit of Jameson Irish Whiskey to toast our final ride. Not being a whiskey fan, that did not hurt my feelings except that Padraic insisted on pouring me a glass in the parking lot of the Castle when he caught up to us.

Tonight we have our final group meal in the main dining room here at the castle. Based on the look I had at the menu last night it will be a feast. This has really been a great way to finish up our vacation. The people in our group have been a lot of fun, and DuVine really lives up to their motto, Bike, Eat, Drink, Sleep. In the photo above we have in the front row, Dan, Craig, Kaia, Laurie, and Joanna. In the back row we have Patty (Dan’s wife) Bobby and Brian, Brad and Jane, Josh, and James (Joanna’s fiance)

Not in the picture are our two amazing guides for the week Padraic and Kirk. These guys are amazing and made for a really fun week. Its easy to forget that every time we were having fun and sitting around enjoying ourselves they were tending to every minute detail to make sure that our trip was a success.

Location:Ballynahinch Castle

connemara and castles

We are staying in a castle! Ashford castle to be precise. It’s about an hour outside of Galway and it’s absolutely beautiful. We arrived yesterday afternoon with our DuVine Adventures guides Kirk and Padraic. Yesterday was mostly about checking to the room, getting our bikes fit, and getting to know our fellow cyclists. There are a total of 12 of us on the trip and everyone is really nice. There are no other young adults on the trip but so far everyone has been very welcoming of Josh and Kaia.

This morning we woke up to what the irish call a soft rain, we might call it a mist but I like the irish term better. It really is so soft that you forget about the precipitation until you are totally soaked by it. We had a nice breakfast here at the castle and then Josh and I went golfing at the nine hole course, and Jane went along with some of our fellow cyclists to a falconry class. It was amazing, they got to wear the leather glove, and the falcon would take off and land from their arm. Meanwhile Josh and I were sharing a set of clubs and getting soaked while playing some golf in Ireland. The course was not too hard, and on the par three I almost got a legitimate hole in one, see my previous post on St. Andrews!

At noon we took off on our first true ride of the tour. We cycled up the road a bit to stop for lunch in a small pub. The only problem was that the soft rain had not abated, and according to our head waiter at the castle, “If its still raining at 11, its probably going to keep raining all day.” It really was a soft rain and although we were all quite wet at our lunch stop we dried out rather quickly as well. Our destination for the afternoon was Joyce Country Sheepdogs. Here we Met Joe Joyce who is a sheep farmer and breeder of working dogs. If you have seen Marley and Me, you have seen Joe’s sheep and one of his dogs (not Marley – Its the scene where the sheep are blocking the road)

Joe showed us how the dogs herd the sheep and how they respond to his verbal or whistled commands. He lives in a beautiful stone house, and his sheep roam the mountains across the lake from his home. When he needs to bring the sheep in for something, which happens five times a year, he brings his dogs across the lake and he commands them using his whistle from a boat where he has a better view. These dogs are amazing, they WANT to work so hard for him they go crazy when its not their turn to herd the sheep. I should say it rained on us the last couple of miles to Joe’s house so we were all like drowned rats when we got their. Thankfully while we were there the rain let up and the sun started to break through.

The ride back was even more beautiful than the ride out, thanks in large part to the lack of rain. Its amazing how green and beautiful the Irish countryside is. The mountains go directly down to the lake shore and the lakes themselves are incredibly beautiful. Tonight we had our second amazing dinner at the castle, this dinner was much less formal than last night’s sport coat and tie affair, but my seafood chowder was to die for, the fish and chips were good, and then the desert, a white chocolate rhubarb tart was amazing.

Tomorrow we have about 40 miles to bike to our next destination and another delicious dinner, I’m already looking forward to it, and I hope we will have sun all day tomorrow.

world cup disappointment in galway

The other night on our pub crawl, Eugene told us a story about the Irish people and how they would conquer the world. He started with the excuse that Ireland has been invaded by just about everyone else on the planet, and how Ireland has a hopeless military; but went on to describe their master plan. According to Eugene when you go into a bar in Ireland you are likely to be ignored for a while, but if you stick around eventually someone will come up and start talking to you. This is not because they are especially friendly, but because the are especially nosey. “Within 15 minutes they will have your name, your parents names, your grandparents names, and your home address.” This information is useful he says because sometime in the future, when you least expect it “this person will show up on your door with a sleeping bag in hand.” They’ll find a quite place to settle down and sometime later fifteen of them will emerge! And this is how Ireland will conquer the world. We all laughed.

Last night at Fagan’s pub we experienced part one of this scenario. We were watching the USA versus Ghana match having a nice time, enjoying a pint and some appetizers, and being cheerfully ignored by all the locals. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around awkwardly to find a red-haired man in a gold and green striped jersey wishing the USA good luck. He wanted to know if we were on holiday here in Ireland? If we were football fans? How long we were staying? What we were doing in Galway? What was our surname? Where were we from? (city and state) As this very friendly irishman took a break of his inquisition to get another pint, Josh leaned over to me and said “Dad he’s going to show up on our door with his sleeping bag!” I just about fell on the floor laughing!

Partway through the second half the whole scenario repeated itself with two different guys. It was all great fun, especially when Donovan tied up the score on his PK and the whole pub was cheering. Sadly that all came to an end early on in the overtime period when our world cup hopes for USA were dashed. Now we are left to wonder who to cheer for and whether our enthusiasm for watching world cup will wane after this defeat. We have watched a lot of football on this trip, its been a fun constant for us in a sea of daily change. Its forced us to sit down and relax at 4:00 or 8:30 most days rather than continuing to tour and walk. Its revived my taste for a good pint of beer.

Location:Galway, Ireland

a day in dublin

This morning we are on the train from Dublin to Galway. We woke up to a bright blue sky in Dublin, packed up our belongings, and left our little apartment for the tram to the train station. Although the apartment itself was a bit sketchy it was in a great neighborhood and we had wonderful restaurants up and down the block.

Last night we had a wonderful Thai meal at Koh. We shared three appetizers and three main course dishes. For the appetizers we had mixed satays, vietnamese beef balls, and ceviche. All were delicious. For the main course we shared green curry with chicken, cashew chicken, and panang curry with beef. I think we each had our own favorite it was all so good.

Yesterday was definitely a full day of touristing in Dublin. We started off our day on the hop-on-hop-off tour bus. Our first hop-off was at the Guinness storehouse. This is a building that Guinness has turned into a monument to all things Guinness. The building is designed so that your tour takes you around and around and on a spiral upward around the worlds largest Guinness pint glass. We learned about how Guinness is brewed, about the history of Guinness, and how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. At the Gravity bar at the very top of the pint glass we were in an all glass circular room with great views of Dublin, there we could trade our ticket for….. A pint of Guinness! Here’s Josh and I in front of the waterfall…good pure water is key to making Guinness. Mr Guiness signed a 9000 year lease for the land on which the brewery sits in part because of it’s access to the pure water flowing in from the Dublin Mountains.

After the Guinness tour we hopped back on the bus and headed for the Gaol. By this time we were very hungry and so we decided to find a bit of lunch. There was not much to choose from in the area around the Gaol but Dolce Vita caught our attention almost right away. We had some very nice pizzas and Kaia had a steaming hot bowl of Spaghetti Carbonara.

The Kilmainham Gaol is a famous site in Dublin as it is the place where 14 of the 16 leaders of the Easter rebellion were executed. It is a very old gaol and the history goes back well before the time of the potato famine in Ireland. It was during the famine that the overcrowding at the gaol was at its worst. The gaol has been featured in several movies including Michael Connelly, and the original version of The Italian Job.

By the time we had finished our guided tour of the gaol our feet were tired so we hopped back on the bus and rode it all the way around to where we had started. Along the way we saw lots of other sites of Dublin. The hop-on-hop-off busses are all double decker busses with open tops so we sat up top and enjoyed the scenery.

We returned to our apartment for a little break and decided to head out to find a pub with internet access. We chose the Church bar, which is a bar/restaurant that has emerged from the remodeled Saint Mary’s church in Dublin. This is the first bar I’ve been in that has its own pipe organ! The pipe organ, built in the 18th century was used by G. F. Handel. In addition there are several famous people who are buried in the church/pub, and there have been some important weddings including Alfred Guinness. How appropriate to have a pint of Guinness in the place where he was married.

After happy hour and then dinner at Koh we were all ready to just kick back and watch the world cup match in our apartment while we finished up washing all of our clothes. The match between Chile and Spain was a yawner, as chile seemed to be willing to place their hopes on Switzerland playing to a draw. Its been very interesting traveling to all of the different companies during the world cup competition. We have seen lots of different kinds of coverage and commentators. Last night on Irish TV there were four very old guys who spent forever dissecting the match and making the case that Spain was really going to have to pick up their game if they had any hope of progressing during the elimination round.

Today is a pretty light day. We’ll get in to Galway just after noon, and we don’t have much planned other than some light walking around and scoping out somewhere to watch USA play tonight. Josh and I are both wearing our USA jerseys today. Good Luck team USA.

Location:On the train from Dublin to Galway

the roller derby queen in dublin

Well last night a bit of Dublin had a taste of some Jim Croce music. I’m not sure where it came from but we were enjoying the musical pub crawl that started in Tower Square. Our two guides for the night were Eugene, who played the Irish banjo, and Steve who was a guitar player. After a couple of pubs and a lot of good Irish Jigs and Reels, and some history of Irish music and instruments were were walking between pubs and I started up a conversation with Steve. Steve also plays a Taylor guitar and it is the same model I have at home. That was the kiss of death. “What is your name?” asks Eugene. Brad, I say. “Now we’ve got you” says Eugene, at this next stop you’ll have to play a little for us. Uh, I don’t think thats a very good idea I said. We talk a little more about what kind of music I like to play and where we are visiting in Ireland and where we have already been. Steve mentions that he is a fan of Prairie Home Companion and how some of the things that Keillor talks about on the show remind him of Ireland and I’m thinking I’m safe and the whole sing for us thing was simply a fun idle threat.

After we get to the next pub and the duo works through a couple more songs Eugene starts in on a long story about how its an Irish tradition to join in on a session and it doesn’t matter how good you are or if you even just sing one verse or whatever, its all in good fun. The next thing I know Steve is handing me the Taylor and a pick I’m I’m thinking what the heck am I going to play!? Roller Derby Queen is Jane’s suggestion and I think I can probably remember the chords and the words, so I start to strum a little bit to see if I can recall the right chords and pretty soon I’m singing. I make it through a couple of versus without too many mistakes and finish up to the applause of the rest of the pub crawlers. Thankfully they all had had a few pints of Guinness by now so they were not an overly discriminating audience. Anyway, it was great fun.

So now that its the next morning and I’m thinking about it, I realize that I really have quite an international performance background. I’ve played in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. I’ve played with a group of Tahitians sitting in a plastic lawn chair in the South Seas. And now I’ve played on an Irish pub crawl in Dublin. It makes me wonder where I could go if I practiced some more!

After the pub crawl was over, we found a little Italian place that was still serving pasta at 10:30 at night and finished off our first day in Dublin. The day had started out very early, in Stockholm with a train ride to the Arlanda airport. We flew SAS from Stockholm to Dublin and then took a bus from the airport to the city center of Dublin. Here in Dublin we are staying in one of the apartments. Its a bit sketchy and in need of paint and a good cleaning but the apartment has two bedrooms a living room a kitchen with one of those funky european washer/dryer units. If anyone can tell me out to operate one of those things properly please send me an email. We cannot get the dryer to work for anything.

After unloading our stuff at the apartment we started to explore the area a little. We found a restaurant called Boojum, right by our apartment that is operated by a man from Philadelphia. If you are looking for your fix of Chipotle right here in the heart of Dublin then Boojum is for you. It was a nice lunch, and I think Josh was really happy with the food. We took a tour of Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells. This is an amazingly old illuminated version of the four gospels that has been preserved by the Trinity library, its a really interesting exhibit, and we had a great guide who is a student at Trinity and works for, Ark sells clothing and the idea is that every time you wear an article of Ark clothing you perform An Act of Random Kindness. Thats where the Ark name comes from. The library at Trinity was also extremely interesting to me for two reasons. First it is the largest single room library in Europe. Its just beautiful to see books and bookshelves stretched out for a city block. But the second reason is interesting to my twisted computer science mind because of how the books are organized in the library. The books are sorted by SIZE! In order to find a book in this library you must know the exact dimensions of the book to get you to the proper shelf!

After the tour of Trinity we just walked around and enjoyed the street performers and the shops of Dublin. Josh wanted to go to the Leprechaun museum but he was out voted 3 to 1. So we went back to the apartment to rest our feet and find an internet cafe to catch up on email and Facebook before the pub crawl. Today we are doing a hop-on-hop-off tour of the city and plan to take the tour of the Guiness Brewery and the Dublin Gaol.

Location:Dublin, Ireland

ship building lessons in stockholm

Today we heard the name Gustavus Adophus quite a lot. With apologies to my friends in St. Peter I must say he didn’t know much about ship building. In all truth it really wasn’t his fault from a technical point of view, but he did pay the bill. I am talking about the Vasa of course. It is the largest ship to be recovered and salvaged and conserved in a museum. This is definitely a must see sight if you go to Stockholm. The Vasa was built in 1628 and was the largest ship in the Swedish fleet. Unfortunately she sunk on her maiden voyage out of the harbor! The reason she sank was because there was not enough ballast in the ship to counterbalance the forces on the sails in the heavy breeze. This seems like an incredibly dumb mistake for a ship builder to make, but there you have it.

The ship lay submerged for 333 years until an amazing recovery operation in the 1960’s brought the ship to the surface. The Vasa is amazingly well preserved due to the water conditions in the Baltic. The museum is just as interesting for the story of how the ship was raised to the surface and preserved as it was to learn about the building of the ship in 1628.

The Vasa Museum was our first stop today in Stockholm. Our day started early as we had to debark from the vision of the seas by 7:40. The sailing in to Stockholm was once again beautiful and very reminiscent of Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota. We are all very lonely for our cabin at the sight of water, boats, rave trampolines and all the pine trees. The rest of the morning we wandered around stockholm enjoying the shops and the old town. We did a little shopping. I got an official USA soccer jersey to wear for the game today.

After walking around all morning we returned to our hotel to check in and rest up a bit. We are staying in the Rica Hotel on Gamla Stan in a wonderful part of stockholm. The streets around here are narrow and cobbled and there are restaurants and bars and little shops everywhere. We hunted around a little bit to decide where to have a late afternoon dinner and watch the USA versus Algeria match. We found O’Leary’s, a boston themed restaurant owned by a swede who spent time in Boston. They had the England match on upstairs and the USA match on down. The American fans were many and much louder than the brits. In a funny small world moment I recognized one of the other fans in the restaurant as the same person we had watched football with when we were in Balestrand! They were originally from Minnesota but had moved to Boston.

To catch up on our activities, yesterday we were in Tallin Estonia, and the day before was a day at sea. Tallin was a really nice city, it has the oldest medieval walled city in Europe. The city reminded us a little of Italy and of some of the walled cities we had visited in Tuscany. The city is an interesting mix of scandinavian and Russian influences.

Jane had a walking tour of the city that we got on the internet and we followed that plan around the city for several hours. After that we returned to the ship for our last night on board.

We are having a great time, but we are all very tired today. We just didn’t have a lot of energy for many touring activities. And the USA victory took a lot of energy as well. Early to bed tonight, but up again early tomorrow morning for our flight to Dublin.

Location:Stockholm, Sweden

read all about it, biking with mike is great

After days and days of using our feet to get around european cities it was time for a change, and what better city to try two wheeled touring in than Copenhagen. Copenhagen has more bikes than anywhere else in the world. They make the people of Portland look like a bunch of slackers. There are literally bikes everywhere. At the train stations there are bike racks two stories high, there are bike racks everywhere and people riding their bikes everywhere.

Jane found Biking with Mike on the internet, he is a lifelong resident of Copenhagen who left his job as a director at a large company to do what he loves – bike and tell people about his city. There is no fancy signup procedure as each days tours are first come first served. If the weather is horrible there won’t be a tour.

We left the ship at 9:30 and headed straight for Mike’s bike shop. We knew the tour was not until 10:30 but we wanted to make sure we got a spot on the tour. We arrived by taxi 5 minutes later, but the shop did not even open until 10:00. So we walked around the area a little bit and decided to get a coffee at the cafe up the block from Mike’s. One minor problem was that we hadn’t taken the time to find a cash machine and get some Danish Kroners. After preparing our coffee we discovered that the credit card reader in the coffee shop was not working properly, and so we were unable to pay. In Decorah, this would not really be a problem, go find some money and pay me later. Who would have guessed that we would find the same attitude in a big city? This appears to be the Danish way. The proprietor of the coffee shop was perfectly happy to have us go on our bike tour, get some cash, and pay him later in the day.

Shortly after 10 Mike arrived. Bright green stocking hat, bright green shoes, a yellow and black livestrong vest and fashionable glasses. His bike matched his cycling outfit. Mike took us on a tour for a little over 3 hours. We saw the palace, the castle, the parliament buildings, the house where Hans Christian Anderson was born, the new opera house, a couple of parks, and a little lawless place called Christiana. We would bike for a while and then stop and mike would give us a short lecture on what were were looking at, Danish politics, Danish culture, local gossip, you name it and MIke knew about it. He is an excellent story teller. As we were riding there was no talking, the idea is to absorb the local feeling of the place as you are riding rather than chatting. It worked. It was fun, we saw a lot of the city.

Christiana was the most interesting stop on the tour. We had coffee in the moonshine cafe. It is the safest coffee house in Copenhagen. Why? The sign on the door tells the story. More than 6000 police inspections since 2004. Christiana is the counter culture area of Copenhagen, Mike discouraged us from taking any pictures in the area because you never know when you might accidentally capture a deal going down, and they don’t like that.

We learned one word of Danish that really sums up our Copenhagen experience. The word is Hygglite, it is difficult to describe exactly what it means, cozy is one possible translation while fantastic is another. Internet people might translate it as “A Good Thing.” Its a word they use in Denmark to describe when something is just right and good. Our bike tour of Copenhagen with mike was definitely Hygglite.

At the conclusion of our tour we paid mike and headed, on foot, back through the park on the way to the ship. When we emerged from the park, there was Mike on his bike. Hello he said, I wonder if you might have a few minute to talk to a reporter from the paper Politik? Its the largest Danish paper and they are doing a story about touring copenhagen on bike. It seems that the reporter for the paper was planning to go on Mike’s afternoon tour, but because of the oncoming rain Mike had cancelled the afternoon tour. So, we agreed to spend a few minutes talking to the reporter and then we got our picture taken by one of the photographers from the paper. So, if you speak Danish you can read about the Miller family and our bike fun in the city of Copenhagen!

Location:Copenhagen, Denmark

the nœrøyfjorden

This morning we got to sleep in, have a relaxing breakfast, catch up on some email and reading, and then we started our long day’s journey. As I’m writing this its 10:45 and we are still an hour out of Oslo. Of course it is also still full daylight outside, and we are hopeful that it will still be light for our short walk to the hotel when we arrive.

The first leg of our trip today started with the same Sognefjorden ferry that we arrived in Balestrand on yesterday. Only this time we rode it for only 45 minutes. When made a mid-fjord transfer to another ferry, this one was actually a passenger and car ferry, which took us down the “Narrow Fjord” This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the narrowest fjord with boat traffic on it. It is spectacular! We stopped counting waterfalls because there were simply too many. The steepness of the cliffs coming down to the water was just beautiful. We passed three tiny villages that have no roads leading to them, the only way in or out is by boat. The natural scenic beauty of this part of the world really is stunning. Along the way in the fjord I had a quick glimpse of two porpoises as well!

Our final destination for this ferry was Gudvangen, this is a tiny little town on the other side of two very long tunnels from Fløm. There is not much here except for some souvenir shops, a small restaurant, and the ferry landing. We had about an hour and half to wait for our bus to Fløm. The bus stop was literally a wide spot in the highway from Bergen, but our bus was right on time to take us to Fløm. Right outside of town was the first tunnel, it was 11.4 kilometers long. We had a short break and then another 5 kilometer tunnel. After this tunnel we were in Fløm, and the railway station.

The final legs of the journey are by train, we started off on the Fløm railway. Which goes up into the mountains 20km, at about a 55 degree slope! It is the steepest non-cogwheel railway anywhere. Again the scenery and waterfalls were marvelous. We spent the entire trip looking out the windows of the train and snapping pictures as fast as we could. We were not quite sure about this train trip when we first boarded as a hoard of toga clad norwegians got onto the same train car as us. They were quite loud and all carrying a can of the local brew. They were on the train for less than 1 km before they all got off the train, in the middle of nowhere. For all we know they are still wandering around the hills near Fløm celebrating some strange holiday we don’t know about.

The final stop of the Fløm railway is at Myrdral which basically consists of a train station up in the mountains. When we got off the train it was actually snowing! We had a short wait for the Bergen to Oslo train to come along and we jumped on. We have been riding in Coach 2, which looks to be the student car on the train. It seems that many students from Bergen must be returned home to Oslo for the summer.

Tonight we will check into the Thon hotel in Oslo, and I suspect we will all sleep in again tomorrow morning.


beautiful balestrand

After the late night heavy metal concert in Bergen, we were all very ready for some peace and quiet. We found it in Balestrand Norway. To get to Balestrand we took the early morning Ferry out of Bergen, and came up through the Fjords to get here. The Beauty of the Fjords is beyond describing in words, so here are a few pictures. First, leaving Bergen on the Ferry:

From Bergen, we travelled North, between the coast, and all the little islands that protect the coast from the North sea. After about two hours we turned inland into Sognefjord, The longest and deepest fjord in Norway. From here on, it was just one beautiful sight after another. Here’s a typical picture from the back of the ferry:

All along the fjords you see these nice houses either up on the hillside, or tucked down near the water. Sometimes there is a boathouse right over the water as in the picture above. Notice how still the water is, and the contrast of the green of the trees on the shore with this stunning blue water is just great.

When we arrived in Balestrand we were met by our host, one member of the family that owns and runs the Balestrand Hotel, which is in my mind the nicest and friendliest place we have stayed yet. The rooms have an amazing view out over the fjord, as you can see from this shot out off the deck of our hotel room. If you go to Balestrand, you should definitely stay here, and don’t be afraid to upgrade to the fjord view, it is worth it.

The rooms here, have no TV in them, but who needs a TV when you have a view like this? We did go downstairs to the lobby area where they have a breakfast room, a reading room, with computer, and a TV area. We enjoyed watching some football with a very international crowd. Its interesting hearing the perspectives of the other people on the games, and of course its different to watch the football match when the announcers are speaking in Norwegian. The truth is its kind of a welcome relief from the English announcers. All they do is talk about England this and England that… I suppose the American announcers are the same way, and they probably talk way too much. The truth is you don’t need an announcer telling you much when you watch football.

Balestrand is not a very large town, we were able to walk everywhere from our hotel, and see just about everything. There is a small aquarium that shows you some of the sea life living in the fjords, a couple of small lunch places and one other hotel called the Kviknes. Hotel Kviknes is the largest wooden structure in Scandanavia. We ended up having supper there last night and it was quite good. I had a wonderful veal, Jane had risotto, Kaia pasta, and josh had a triple decker club sandwich. While were were seated we struck up a conversation with an older british couple and had a very nice chat. It is interesting to hear the English perspective on what is going on with the BP oil spill in the gulf of mexico. It is clear that although the british people have been supportive of Obama in the past many are taking his anger at BP somewhat personally. Of course football is alway another good topic to take up with the Brits, luckily this couple were very sportsmanlike about our competition.

This morning we were able to sleep in and have a nice breakfast in the hotel. At noon we board the ferry again, and head for Oslo. Today is a travel Odyssey, we’ll be on two ferries, a bus, and two trains to take us to Oslo. We won’t get in until after 11:00 tonight, but of course it will still be broad daylight so we aren’t particularly worried. I’ll leave you with one more image of the fjords and beautiful Balestrand.

Location:Balestrand, Norway

heavy metal in bergen

Last night after we ate our dinner at the Ship Inn we came out to this sight.

The tide had gone out and left all of the boats stranded on the sand.

This morning we flew from Aberdeen Scotland to Bergen Norway, the landing was absolutely spectacular. I’ve never seen so many small islands in my life. Plus, the sky was perfectly blue for the first time in many days, and so the whole scene was amazing. Getting through customs and the rest of the airport went just as smoothly as you would expect from a scandinavian country.

We immediately found our SAS Airbus to take us downtown to our hotel. We are at the Hotel Thon, it is on the end of Byrggen Street, right across the road from the harbor. Its a very nice location, except that it is next to a huge city park. What is wrong with that you may ask. Well, it turns out that we picked the wrong night to stay at the Thon hotel next to the park, as tonight is the night of the Rammstein concert. Who are Rammstein you may ask? After a little internet searching I quickly learned that Rammstein are a German industrial metal band.

We are actually on the opposite side of the hotel from the concert but at the moment it is making no difference. We are trying to watch the world cup, but the sound from the concert is so loud it is drowning out the Brazilian national anthem. I would much prefer the sounds of those dumb world cup horns to the sound of a german industrial metal band. We can only hope that the concert will wrap up at a respectable time. Josh just found a view of the concert and said it looks like a bunch of black ants (yes all the concert goers are dressed in black T-shirts) streaming toward a rotting apple.

OK, enough grousing, Bergen really is a nice city. We started our tour of Bergen by meeting one of Kaia’s facebook friends named Thomas at our hotel. Thomas had visited Decorah with a group of Norwegian students a couple of years ago, and volunteered to get us oriented to the city when he saw Kaia’s Facebook status. He showed us around the area including the wharf and the fish market and the central park of Bergen.

Jane and Kaia spent some time shopping around the city for a sweater for Kaia. They were successful, and so Kaia can proudly celebrate her heritage at concord, and at Christmas time.

We took the Funicular up high above the city this afternoon and the view is amazing. We took Thomas’ recommendation for a restaurant for supper tonight and went to Egon’s. It is a Norwegian chain restaurant and the food was OK. I think we have officially reached the point of vacation where choosing a place to eat for supper and dinner in a new strange city has become somewhat of a chore. We miss the home cooking.

Tomorrow morning we have another fairly early morning, as we must be on board our ferry boat at 8 AM for the trip to Balestrand, of course early morning takes on a whole new connotation at this time of the year at this latitude. We are now far enough north that there is only a couple hours of darkness at this time of the year. Darkness is only from midnight until a little after 2 AM. The Ferry trip tomorrow promises to be a beautiful trip through the fjords, we are all looking forward to it very much.

For now we are resting and watching Brazil and the People’s Republic of Korea play some football.

Location:Bergen, Norway

st. andrews hole in one!

Can you possibly imagine a better way to top off a trip to St. Andrews than with a hole in one? Well thats what I did!! Josh and I were playing this morning, and it was on the 16th hole. I hit my drive perfectly straight, just a little left of the pin, right where I had aimed it. It rolled, broke to the right and dropped straight into the cup. Here’s where the story gets really weird, two holes later, Josh also got a hole in one. Thats right, on number 18 at St. Andrews. He hit his drive past the hole, up the hill, and it rolled straight back down into the cup. A truly amazing shot. You may be wondering which course we were on. Well unfortunately it was not the old course. It was a course called the Himalayas and it is the official putting green of the old course. They have 18 holes laid out, and you can rent a putter and balls. No, silly clowns mouths or windmills allowed, this is just a very challenging, and highly rolling putting green. In fact we had to wait until 11:00 this morning to tee off because they have a ladies putting league that plays before that. It is complete with its own clubhouse and everything. Here I am in my fashionable St. Andrews argyle sweater, getting ready to tee it up!

We arrived in St. Andrews yesterday afternoon, after visiting Castle Edinburgh in the morning. The castle was very interesting, and we again learned some interesting Scottish history. We stayed in the hotel Rusacks’ which looks right out over the 18th Fairway on the old course. We could sit in our room and look out at both number 1 and 18 fairways. They have already done a lot of work getting ready for the Open. This is the last week that the public can play on the course until afterwards. So there are lots of grandstands under construction. The great thing is that the course is closed on sunday so the public can walk the course. So we did.

We’ve talked a lot these last few days about walking where other famous people have walked. We’ve walked the same rooms and stairways as Mary Queen of Scots, King Henry the VIII, Oliver Cromwell, and many others. Now we can add to our list Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklas, Old Tom Murray, and even Tiger. The room that we stayed in at Rusacks is the same room used by Arnold Palmer, and other golfers. In addition Mick Jagger also stayed in our room. I don’t know that Mick cares about golf but he was on the list. I’m sure they will be adding the Miller family to the list any day now.

Back to walking the course, it was really fun to walk along and remember seeing some of our golfing hero’s and where they hit great shots and where they got in trouble. We found lots of deep bunkers to take our picture in too. Here is one of me on the Swilcan Bridge:

This blog entry would not be complete without a little culinary update. Last night we ate at Nahm-Jim a Thai restaurant right in the heart of St. Andrews. We had some delicious curry, and Josh claims he had the best Pad-Thai of his life there. Very good stuff. After dinner the tide had gone way out, so Josh and I hiked out on the beach, we got a great look back at St. Andrews. You can see the Golf museum lit up on the far right, and some of the temporary construction they have stared for the open, also on the far right.

After a very light lunch in St. Andrews today, we finally gave in to Josh’s urge to have a Subway Sandwich, we drove to Stonehaven. Stonehaven is a small town outside Aberdeen, its probably about the same size as Decorah, but its right on the North Sea. Our Bed and Breakfast overlooks the town harbor and is really beautiful. We took an Awesome hike out to Donnotter castle. This castle is all in ruins but it is such a great setting, its was really amazing. This is the site where they filmed Mel Gibson’s version of Hamlet. This picture gives you a sense for how isolated the castle is.

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Location:St. Andrews, Scotland

a draw in edinburg

One week after watching our Decorah Vikings take third in the state soccer tournament we were back watching futbol again. This time we were in Edinburgh Scotland watching USA play England. Now before you get too worried about us cheering for our side on the home turf of our opponent let me just clarify that when England is playing the Scottish will cheer very loudly for the other team! As soon as we arrived in Edinburgh Josh. Changed into his USA jersey, and as we were waking around Edinburgh he got lots of comments from the locals. “nice top there son”

So it came to pass that we found ourselves in a hotel bar with lots of support for USA. On one side was a group of about 20 younger scottish men, and on the other were some additional tourists like ourselves. We had hoped to experience the game in a pub, but unfortunately they do not allow minors after 8pm. It was great fun to watch the game here, but I must say that I have grown used to the expert commentary of my friend Jim, who is leading a group of Luther alumni on a trip through Germany at the moment. I am sure Jim found a good place to watch the game there with some German support. You see all kinds of people when you watch the game in a hotel bar. At one point an Asian man came in, and stared at the screen for a couple of minutes before asking “what half is it?”. One of our scottish compatriots replied, well I don’t know where you’re from mate but when the clock says forty two minutes here you’re in the first half. It sounds even funnier when you hear it with the accent. Needless to say that particular fan did not stick around to watch much of the game.

When the Americans scored (yes it was an error on the English keeper) the whole bar erupted in cheers and then a chant of USA USA started up. The bar manager looked like he couldn’t decide what to do. He clearly wanted to calm everyone down and was obviously worried that a riot was going to break out in his bar. But he had no idea how what the right strategy was. In the end order was restored by some humor. After the cheers erupted and the chant had started one of the scottish fans came running back into the room to see what all of the commotion was about. As he had been in the toilet, he made a great show of zipping up his zipper which put everyone to laughing, including the manager. Although I was disappointed to settle for the draw, I think it is a good result for the American side.

Earlier in the day we did spend some time walking around Edinburgh, we walked the Royal Mile, and checked out Holyrood House. We have now seen all the royal residences except for Balmoral. The big story of Holyrood is that this is where Mary Queen of Scots spent a lot of time, and it is also where her young son was killed right before her eyes by her husband. Nice guy, who wanted the throne bad enough to kill his stepson. Here is a picture of the Abbey.

Our hotel here is great, we are right in the middle of a bustling area, and have a awesome view of Edinburgh castle out our hotel window. Here is a night shot I took after the world cup game was over.

Today we are going to visit the castle, then pick up our rental car and head for St. Andrews, birthplace of golf!

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Location:Edinburgh, Scotland

random rants on a train

I am writing this on the train from London to Edinburgh where they have just announced the breakfast options. I don’t get the concept of “English breakfast.” I would like to meet the chef who came up with the idea of serving baked beans and eggs together! My guess is that if I did meet him I would learn that he was also the inventor of the “Pudding Menu.” At every hotel the included breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, and baked beans. I don’t like baked beans under the best of conditions, and certainly not first thing in the morning. I guess it must be one of those things you need to grow up with in order to appreciate. In the meantime I will just stick to having tea.

Anyway, now that I have addressed the breakfast issue I will praise the train system. This is really a the way to travel. We have four seats facing each other in coach, tons of legroom, a table in between us, great scenery, free wifi, and a very quiet ride. No long hassles of getting to the station 90 minutes ahead of time, and no long security lines. Just walk to the platform, get on your train, stow your luggage and take a seat. As we reevaluate travel the US I really wonder what it would take to get this kind of convenience. I, for one would travel this way whenever possible.

I also want to say how much I love traveling with my iPad! This thing is great. It’s small, light, the battery life is awesome, I have a bunch of books to read on it, a couple of movies to watch, the current season of Merlin, and games to entertain me when I am tired of all of the above. Other than if I really needed to write a program I can not imagine why I would ever need to travel with a laptop. In fact I think this is really the start of something new. I don’t see myself needing a laptop. My setup would be a nice big desktop machine for programming and writing in LaTeX, and my iPad for the times I am not at my desk.

Finally, as long as I’m rambling on about products and travel I have to say that I love my ScotteVest. ( Its a vest designed for travel, that includes zip pockets for just about everything. I can carry camera lenses, glasses, iPod, phone, and all kinds of things. I think it has 20 pockets in total, so there is a pocket for just about everything. It keeps me warm at the temperatures we are traveling in at the moment, and with all the zippers and inner pockets I feel pretty secure.

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adventure in the white tower

Today’s travel adventure involved the Tower of London. No, we were not arrested and tortured by the English royalty. We were on a tour of the tower of london. We had just finished the guided tour with one of the Yoman Warders (cool title eh?) and we decided to go in and check out the Armoury. (yep I’m converting to british spelling) Just after we got in the door an alarm started to go off, and a woman steward came hurrying buy and told us that we had to evacuate the tower. We were never able to to find out why we had to evacuate but Jane overheard a couple of them talking about a fire alarm. The tower of London is also the site where Henry VIII beheaded several of his wives, including Anne Boleyn.

We started our day by taking the tube to St. Paul’s Cathedral. After walking around the sanctuary we resumed our european stair climbing tradition. We first walked 257 stairs to the whispering gallery. This is a cool balcony where you can face the wall and whisper. The person standing directly opposite you across the circle, over 100 feet away, can hear you perfectly clearly. I’d like to explain the physics of this but I’m told that my readership will decline if I include any equations. I guess all three of you are safe and will remain loyal readers. After the whispering gallery we continued another 266 stairs up to the gold gallery. From here we had a very good, but slightly foggy view of all of London.

Next we walked across the Millennium bridge and toured Shakespeare’s Globe theater. This is a slightly modernized version of the original, but still true to the spirit of performing plays in daylight where the actors and audience are face to face. It would have been really fun to try to watch a show there, but Macbeth is being performed at the moment and it seemed a bit dark, and long given our schedule for the day.

Now we are chilling at our hotel, the Luna Simone, watching Mexico and South Africa play futbol. South Africa just scored and are up one nil. Very exciting for the South African side. We have been researching whether or not we dare show the american colors during the game tomorrow. Research has indicated that the scottish people will cheer for ANY opponent of England, so we feel pretty comfortable about watching the game in a pub in Ediburgh tomorrow. Maybe some nice scottish people will buy us a pint if we win! (darn, Mexico just scored)

Kaia is waiting patiently for her phone call from her Concordia advisor to do her registration! Then we’ll grab a quick dinner and head out to see Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theater. We had three shows that we wanted to see while we were in London and this one won out since we walked right by the box office last night. We also wanted to see Stomp, and We Will Rock You. Yes, a Queen musical, featuring Bohemian Rhapsody and of course We Will Rock You.

Location:London, England

bath to oxford

Do you remember Sir John Gielgud from the movie Arthur? Jeeves maybe? Imagine the most proper british gentleman you can, and you will have our guide for the tour of Blenheim Palace we had today. This guy was much shorter than Sir Gielgud but he was a pretty good guide. He told us about fine china and tapestries the architects of the Palace along with many of the priceless artifacts that have been collected by the Spencer Churchill family over the years. As we finished each room of the palace our guide would say very politely, well if there are no questions I think that just covers it.

After our tour with Jeeves, we decided to see the Untold Story of Blenheim. This is part Disney animatronics and part history lesson. All in all it did not work for us. The animated dummies they had playing the parts of members of the royal households were all placed in front of ‘mirrors’ which were really computer screens, so although we looked at the dummy’s back we saw a real person’s face projected on the screen as if it was a reflection. These characters tried to tell us the back story behind how the Palace was constructed. One can only take so much royal sex scandal before it gets old.

Blenheim Palace is the home of the family of the Duke of Marlborough, although once a year they have to send a flag to BUCKingham, yes you must say that with a British accent with all of the emphasis on the BUCK and you will have it just about right. The purpose of the flags is to avoid paying what must be an incredible amount of rent. As long as the flag is delivered on time the family gets another year rent free.

Blenheim was actually our second castle of the day today. We started the morning by visiting Sudeley castle in the Cotswolds. This is one of the castles where Henry VIII and his wives hung out. Much of the castle is in ruins now, but it really is interesting, especially after watching several episodes of The Tudors on HBO. Other highlights of Sudeley were the Gardens and the Peacocks that were running around and in captivity in the Pheasantry. Yes, how many of you have been to a Pheasantry??

Lunch today was at Noel Arms in Chipping Camden. Jane had a Ploughman’s lunch, Josh had ice cream, and Kaia and I tried a burger. It was a nice English pub and we had to try some of the local brews, also quite good.

We stayed in Woodstock at The Bear, It is a hotel in a building that was built in the late 1600’s! The rooms are everywhere with no two alike. While Kaia went for a run I had a real english G&T although I really did not appreciate the use of the slice of cucumber in place of the lime. Dinner was at a small family run italian restaurant (Branca) across the street from the hotel. I had a great bolognese, Jane had Arrabiata, and Josh and Kaia had Pizza. All in all this was a great birthday!

Location:Woodstock, England

a clean sweep of bath

Yesterday we flew from Chicago to London. We tried a day flight instead of an overnight flight and it worked very well. We left Chicago at 9:05AM and arrived at Heathrow at 10:30PM. The flight was very easy an non-eventful, it worked perfect for someone who cannot fall asleep on an airplane. We got into Heathrow and did the customs thing and by the time we got to our hotel it was after midnight. To our bodies it was still early evening but by 1:30 we all had lights out and were working on sleep.

We did sleep in until 8:45 this morning. From there we took off for Bath by way of Stonehenge. For those of you who don’t know, Stonehenge is a big circle of rocks. Merlin the magician moved them down from Ireland sometime in the distant past. This was well before King Uther died, because he is apparently buried in Stonehenge. Here’s Kaia and Josh at Stonehenge.

At lunchtime we at at a local establishment called Jacqueline’s Bistro. Jane and Kaia had fresh baked baguettes with goat cheese, Josh had a ham and cheese omelet with salad and I had fish and chips.

From there we moved on to our final destination for today, Bath. When you arrive in downtown Bath you are “in a twisty turny maze” Its hard to know where you are, and the gps was equally unenlightened at several points. When we finally did find the parking lot where we were supposed to leave our car, it was closed for re-surfacing! So we had to go back to find a different lot that we had passed along the way.

After parking the car it was a very short walk to our Bed & Breakfast at Three Abbey Green. We have a beautiful two room suite, so we have to room to spread out tonight. Josh and Kaia both have their own beds and Kaia gets a separate bedroom. Breakfast is included as part of the deal in the morning. Here’s a nice view of the courtyard and our place for the night. The entrance is to the left of the giant tree in this photo:

We went out to view the sites of Bath, its a great downtown area once you are on foot. We visited the Roman Baths - from whence Bath got its name - and looked at the Abbey. Went shopping to replace the shorts that I left hanging on the back of the bathroom door at the Super 8 in Chicago. On the recommendation of our hotelier we went to the Eye of India for some great Indian food for dinner. We had Tikki Takka Tak, (I’m not making that up) Garlic Chili Masala, and Chicken Khorma, along with rice and nan. Here’s Kaia and Jane at the Baths.

The highlight of the day was definitely the after dinner show, called Bazaar Bath. Its a comedy/magic show that roams around downtown. The host entertains by poking fun of the people on the tour and doing tricks. As advertised, you do not learn anything about the history or culture of Bath, but it is a lot of laughs and I highly recommend this show if you come to Bath.

Unfortunately our string of injuries continues as Jane seems to have slipped a disc as we were walking around for the show tonight. Hopefully ibuprofen and heat will have her back as good as new in the morning.

Location:Bath, England


In preparation for the big upcoming trip to Europe I wanted to try out a couple of blogging apps for my iPad. I will be on the road for almost a month without my laptop.

Since I am writing this from home here is a picture of the sunset from a couple days ago.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

a new year in silicon valley

The second ‘Understanding Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley’ started this week. Yesterday was our first full day of meetings.

We started out with Steve Larson at Callspark. Then had lunch at Suriya Thai with Alison Johnston from Aardvark, beers with Matt Van Horn at Digg, and a great experience at sfnewtech.

Here’s the gang at Lunch. It was fun, everyone was trying new stuff that was a little out of the comfort zone for a bunch of midwesterners.


The words of the day are “stalking” and “audacious.” This seemed to be a theme from many people in terms of both job hiring and job seeking.

I’ll update this initial post to include the blogs the students are writing: